Christon and Stenger each had 12 points as Xavier's final tune-up before the regular season was a relative success Saturday night, with the Musketeers taking down Division-II Kentucky State, 74-52.
Christon and senior walk-on Erik Stenger led Xavier to a 35-23 halftime lead, and the Musketeers never looked back in the second half.
"I just wanted to come out and play my role, which was high-energy, get a couple rebounds," Stenger said. "And tonight I was set up by my teammates for some great looks at the basket, so it was nice to have 12 points as well."
The first few possessions were about about as good of a start as Xavier could have asked for. On the first play of the game Christon found Jeff Robinson on a back screen for the wide open alley-oop. The following possession, Christon drove down the right side of the lane and put in a leaner from about four feet out. He followed that up with a steal on the defensive end and then assisted Stenger with a no look dish to give Xavier a 6-0 lead, forcing a Kentucky State timeout just two and a half minutes into the game.
The tide turned quickly.
A flurry of four 3-pointers from the perimeter-oriented Thoroughbreds coupled with a lull in Xavier's offense, led Kentucky State on a 14-4 run, giving the visitors' their largest lead of the night at 14-10 when the second media timeout rolled around with 10:51 to play in the first half.
"It's always a tough assignment when a Division-I team plays a Division-II team because usually what they lack is size," Xavier coach Chris Mack said. "All of a sudden you have your five or your four-man guarding a guy who's 6-foot-2 and has played guard his whole life, so we don't generally see those type of teams."
Out of the timeout Xavier promptly went on a 14-0 run to take control of the game for good.
Stenger started the run when he got a steal and threw ahead to Dee Davis for the layup. After Christon tied it with free-throws, Stenger got a block on the defensive end, corralled the ball, threw ahead to Davis and then got it back at the other end for the finish to make it 16-14 Xavier.
The run continued as Jeff Robinson got a steal and then took off from a few steps inside the free-throw line for the nasty one-handed dunk in transition. Xavier's scoring barrage was capped by a three from Justin Martin on the right wing and another bucket by Christon to make it 24-14 with just under 7:00 left in the first half.
Hot 3-point shooting made the difference for the Breds, Despite turning the ball over 15 times, their 5-for-10 3-point performance kept them in the game.
Christon led Xavier with 10 points as the Musketeers took a 35-23 lead into the break.
Senior Brad Redford missing the game with a hamstring injury and Christon experiencing some cramping throughout the game forced Mack to be a little bit more creative with his lineups. He ran out a lineup that included Martin at the two a few times, and even stuck Isaiah Philmore at the three on occasion.
"(Redford) pulled his hamstring and it's just one of those things where I don't want to put him out and have him re-injure it. We'll continue to see how he progresses over the next couple of days," Mack said. "With Brad being on the shelf here for this game, it sort of limited us. We don't have a ton of guys in the backcourt. So tonight you found Isaiah Philmore at times playing the three. And he doesn't really know much at the three. That's OK on the defensive end, not so much on the offensive end, running our stuff."
Justin Martin added that he only really played the two due to Christon's cramping, but said he felt comfortable on the court in the offense.
"With the players that left it's time for me to step up," Martin said. "I like the offense that we run because everybody has the opportunity to score. It's not like one person is holding the ball. I just went to the two for that little time, but I felt comfortable."
Xavier's size made a big difference in the second half. After only scoring three second-chance points in the first, the Musketeer's crashed the offensive glass and were awarded with easy putbacks and trips to the free-throw line. They scored 12 second-chance points and 24 total in the paint as they pulled away in the second half.
"I was pleased we were able to rebound the ball the way we did on the offensive end, especially in the second half, because what we lack in execution or not having as many perimeter players to work with tonight, we made up for by really going to the glass," Mack said.
After a 30-second timeout by Xavier, a well executed out of bounds play saw Robinson slash through the middle of the lane for an unmolested catch above the rim. He initially bobbled the ball and had to come down with it, but was open enough to re-gather himself and finish to give Xavier their biggest lead of the game at 63-39 with 5:40 to play.
Stenger, Robinson and Christon all finished with 12 points to lead the way for Xavier, while Taylor and Martin also finished in double-digits with 10. Stenger led the way on the glass with nine rebounds, including four offensive, with Martin coming in second, grabbing seven boards on the night.
Xavier opens up the regular season this Friday as they welcome Fairleigh Dickinson to the Cintas Center for a 7 p.m. tip.